Saitama – An early burst of scoring gave Japan an emphatic 2-1 victory over Mexico in the Tokyo 2020 men’s soccer tournament on Sunday night at Saitama Stadium, giving the host nation control of its own fate heading into Wednesday’s final Group A game against France.
Japan head coach Hajime Moriyasu made just one change to the starting lineup that narrowly beat South Africa 1-0 on Thursday — swapping Royal Antwerp midfielder Koji Miyoshi out for Nagoya Grampus’ Yuki Soma — while Mexico’s Jaime Lozano kept intact the squad that dominated France.
It took just seven minutes for Japan to take the lead with Takefusa Kubo, the Real Madrid wonderkid who has spent his first two Spanish seasons on loan at other clubs, sending a blistering strike past Mexico’s veteran goalkeeper, Guillermo Ochoa, following Ritsu Doan’s fine cross from the right flank.
The host nation doubled its lead just four minutes later when a video review resulted in Mexican defender Cesar Montes being shown a yellow card for a reckless challenge on Nagoya Grampus midfielder Yuki Soma in the box, with PSV standout Doan beating Ochoa from the penalty spot.
Mexico, aiming to avenge its group-stage exit in Rio just four years after winning gold in London, regrouped and mounted several attacks on goal, all of which were deftly managed by a Japan back line still missing injured Bologna center back Takehiro Tomiyasu.
But Japan, which lost to Mexico in the 2012 semifinals before a defeat to South Korea in the bronze-medal game, held strong and never felt overwhelmed, especially after a last-man foul by defender Johan Vasquez against Doan left Mexico reduced to just 10 players.
Yokohama F. Marinos striker Daizen Maeda came on later in the second half as a substitute in his Olympic debut, but the 23-year-old failed to help Japan pad its lead, and Mexico made it close in the 86th minute when Roberto Alvarado scored off a free kick that trickled into the net past keeper Kosei Tani.
But Tani redeemed himself during stoppage time with a series of fine saves against a frantic Mexican attack looking to salvage a point.
A win or draw against France on Wednesday at International Stadium Yokohama would clinch Japan’s first knockout-round appearance since London, while a loss — plus a Mexico victory over South Africa at Sapporo Dome — would see two from the trio of Japan, France, and Mexico advance on tiebreakers.
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